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what is a maternity bra

So, you’re shopping for maternity bras and/or nursing bras? First off, congratulations on your pregnancy! Of course, you can expect your breasts to go through some significant changes during this time due to hormonal shifts, weight fluctuations, and the expansion of your mammary glands as well as your rib cage. And the right bras can make that whole journey a whole lot more comfortable and enjoyable.

It’s important to understand the differences between a maternity bra and a nursing bra before you start shopping. The two terms can often get confused, as they are often (mistakenly) used interchangeably. Each offers its own unique benefits, though, that can be helpful during different stages.

In this guide, we’ll cover all the ins and outs of both so you can make the right selection.

Maternity bras

In short: a maternity bra is designed solely for your pregnancy. These bras tend to have additional rows of hook-and-eye closures as well as stretchy fabric to accommodate your changing breast size. In addition, many of them come with wider straps for comfort and reducing shoulder strain. They also typically have ample support and an ultra-soft lining. They don’t, however, usually feature underwire (though you can find some that do if that’s your preference). Moreover, maternity bras can be found in a wide variety of colors, fabrics, and cuts.

Your bra size may change anywhere from 1-3+ cup sizes during your pregnancy. We suggest shopping for wireless maternity bras 1-3 months into your pregnancy and wired maternity bras 3-4 months in.

Nursing bras

Whereas maternity bras are designed for your pregnancy phase, nursing bras are designed specifically for breastfeeding. That’s why they feature cups (or flaps) that either drop down or detach via a clasp to make breastfeeding convenient. With a nursing bra, you don’t have to take off your entire bra to breastfeed! We suggest shopping for nursing bras once you’re at least 8 months into your pregnancy.

Related: How Should A Nursing Bra Fit?

Expert tips

Clearly, it’s a good idea to have a combination of these bras in your collections.

At the beginning of your pregnancy, you’ll likely be perfectly comfortable wearing your regular T-shirt bras, demi-cup bras, convertible bras, etc. (It’s worth noting that some women actually like wearing maternity bras during the entire nine months of pregnancy — they’re pretty comfy, after all!)

Then, as you start to notice that your breasts are transforming (typically not until a few months in) you’ll want to switch over to maternity bras. Post-childbirth, once the milk comes in, you’ll start sporting your nursing bras.


Both maternity bras and nursing bras are designed to provide maximum support, while also reducing the strain on your shoulder and back. However, maternity bras are meant to be worn while your little one is growing, and nursing bras are meant to be worn once he or she is already in the world and breastfeeding. You’ll be glad to have both in your collection, as they serve different purposes! But don’t forget to get fitted before buying maternity bras, as your size obviously may have changed after you got pregnant. You’ll also want to get fitted again right before you start nursing since your size can shift then as well.

Related: Where To Buy Maternity Bras

We Highly Recommend

Whether you’re shopping for new everyday bras or lingerie for a special occasion, it’s always a good idea to seek out a second opinion. We know how hard it is to find bras that fit well and feel good, especially when you’re doing it on your own. If you’ve ever felt unsure about your bra size or you just don’t know where to go to find good bras, it’s time to let a bra fitter help.

Many specialty lingerie boutiques offer bra fittings. Their expert bra fitters will take the pain and frustration out of bra shopping and do all the work for you. Even better, their product knowledge can save you time and money. Plus, they know where all of the best bras are hiding.

If you’ve struggled with finding bras in the right size, it’s time to make a change. Visit our specialty store locator to find a store near you and schedule an appointment.

Happy bra shopping!

Featured image lingerie:
Dalis Bralette P5641 in Navy Blue
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Published by

Rebecca Strong

Rebecca is a Boston-based freelance writer who focuses on style, fitness, food, and travel. She has contributed to such publications as HuffPost, Elite Daily and U.S. News & World Report. When she's not writing, she can be found at home or in the studio working on the songs for her upcoming album. Her favorite bra is a black demi-cup style with all-over-lace — timeless and feminine.

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